In 12 years of touring, Toronto-bred, honky-tonk kitten Lindi Ortega discovered a universal travel truth, couched in a Far East metaphor: “You can read about China all you want, but it’s not until you visit it that you get a real understanding for it,” she says.
It explains her sudden move last December to Nashville, birthplace of the vintage country music she grew up idolizing, and echoing, on 2011’s “Little Red Boots” and her new Music-Row-tracked “Cigarettes & Truckstops.”
“It’s one thing to have an appreciation for country and those heroes from a distance,” says the longtime Patsy Cline-Hank Williams acolyte, whose own retro style – on display in San Francisco Monday night – feels like a punk-adrenalized hybrid of the two legends.
“But true appreciators really want to be immersed into the air those performers breathed and the places they went. So relocating to Nashville was that kind of thing for me – like a historical survey, a way for me to really get an understanding of the music that I loved.”
The city adored the transplant right back. In old publishing-house tradition, she began co-writing with some of Nashville’s finest composers, like ex-Civil Wars bandleader John Paul White.
With T-Bone Burnett associate Colin Linden producing, Ortega conjured up smoky Southern Gothic visions in “Murder of Crows,” “Demons Don’t Get me Down” and the hoedown “The Day You Die,” the new single, which she sang in a nightclub scene on the TV show “Nashville.”
The program already had used two Ortega songs in various episodes when she got the cameo invite. “They called me up one day and said ‘How would you feel about being on “Nashville” and actually performing as yourself?’ And I was like ‘awesome!’” she says.
She didn’t get to meet series stars Connie Britton or Hayden Panetierre, but she hung around with co-stars Claire Bowen and Jonathan Jackson, whose guitarist character Avery – after losing his club slot – snarls "Lindi Ortega?! Is there a gig in town they haven't gotten lately?"
The appearance worked wonders. Sales of “The Day You Die” skyrocketed the next day, and Ortega’s Twitter and FaceBook accounts instantly sparked to fan-frenzied life.
Her look and hairstyle – once Dogpatch-Goth – have softened accordingly. “It’s more cowgirl now,” she says.
The biggest irony? When Ortega first relocated, she had no idea that a drama about her favorite showbiz mecca was even in the works. “So it all just came together for me after I got here,” she says. “Nothing but great things have been happening since I moved to Nashville.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Acoustic Bistro at Osteria Restaurant, 3277 Sacramento St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Tickets: Free; reservations recommended
Contact: (415) 771-5030; www.osteriasf.com